So Where is it Now – My Italian Violin

In previous posts I told the story of how and why I got my rather expensive Italian violin made by Maurizio Tadioli, an award winning luthier who lives in Cremona, Italy. I told the story of how it was lost and all but destroyed in China, and how, after seven years as a decoration on my wall in China it made it’s way back to Maurizio for repairs, the two years it took him to repair the instrument, and my travels to Italy to get it back in my hands. I recently did a post about my tour of Scotland with the Szasz family and my young fiddle buddy, Kipling, playing Scots melodies in locations where they originated – “Over the Sea to Sky” on the Isle of Sky, “Callums’s Road” on Callum’s Road, “Hut on Staffin Island” in Staffin, and “Flowers of Edinburgh” in Edinburgh, plus a couple of others in random castles and ruins.

Now it’s time to tell why I don’t have my beloved violin any more and where it has gone. I guess this is the final chapter, at least as far as my involvement goes.

When I learned that my prostate cancer had jumped ship and gone ashore into my bones and lymph glands, I jumped to the conclusion that this meant curtains for Zale Dalen. That’s what Dr. Google told me, and I believed it when I read that the chances of me being alive a year after that diagnosis were 45% and my chance of being alive five years after that diagnosis was 1%. I’ve since been told by my oncologists that treatment has come a long way. Prostate cancer, even prostate cancer that has metastasized into the bones, is now considered a chronic disease rather than a fatal disease. I’m on a new drug, a testosterone blocker, and my numbers are looking good. Going on three years since that scary diagnosis, I feel generally okay.

But one thing that wasn’t feeling good was the arthritis in my hand. The thumb on my bow hand, my right hand, grew increasingly painful after the Scotland trip, to the point where playing the violin for a few minutes took all the fun out of playing and practicing. The specialist gave me cortisone shots into my thumb joint, and that helped a little, for a month or so. But it seemed obvious that my days of playing the fiddle were numbered. I had already decided that I wanted Kipling to have my violin. In fact, that was the only way I could feel comfortable letting her father pick up the tab for my trip to Scotland.

Then I learned that Kipling, who prefers reading music and playing classical violin, rather than fiddling, was going to take her grade nine Royal Conservatory test. She was at a critical stage for a violin student, a point where one either falls in love with the instrument and strives for perfection or puts it aside for other interests. I decided that perhaps having a piece of wood she could fall in love with might motivate her to practice, and really go for concert performance level in her playing. So my Mauritzio Tadioli Il Cannone became hers. She renamed it Cosimo, after Cosimo de Medici, the renaissance patron of the arts, which I took as a sign that she was forming a personal bond with the instrument. I took back the Chinese violin I had given her to use when she reached the size to need a 4/4 sized instrument. That certainly is good enough for me. I will never be more than a fiddler, and a mediocre one at that.

Here’s Kipling performing with Cosimo as part of her grade nine violin examination.

Since passing my Italian fiddle along to Kipling, I’ve had an interesting surgical treatment on my arthritic bow hand. The specialist told me that she could cut off the arthritic end of the bone and glue on some tendon from my forearm and that would possibly be a more permanent solution to the pain than the cortisone shots. My first reaction to this idea was astonishment. What? Take a tendon from my forearm? You’re kidding. Don’t I need those tendons? Well, it turns out we, at least some of us, have a vestigial tendon in our forearm that no longer has a function. It does virtually nothing. So I had the operation and… it’s been a miracle. It was a slow and painful recovery, but I can once again practice for an hour or two without undue pain in my bow hand thumb. Now the limiting factor is the rotator cuff in my bow arm shoulder, which has also had a surgical repair. But that is also improving with stretching and exercise. This doesn’t change the fact that I will never become a really good performer. Kipling has a shot at doing that, and I’m hoping she takes it. But that’s up to her.

I will admit to missing my Italian violin, and occasional twinges of regret at giving it away. But I’m finding that a new set of strings and daily practice has awakened the Chinese fiddle. It is also a hand made violin, made by Jin Lin Rui Lin in Shanghai, and is indeed a lovely instrument. When sunlight hits the Burmese maple of its back, it bursts out in ribbons of gold. But sadly, no matter how good a Chinese violin is, it will never have the status or value of one made in Cremona. I refuse to succumb to that cultural foolishness. Pure snobbery. It looks amazing and sounds wonderful. That’s what matters.

This is the Burmese maple back of my Chinese violin. I’ve always been a sucker for a one piece back, and this maple burl is amazing. It’s such a hard wood, with such interlocking grain, that I can’t imagine carving it.

Whether my social experiment with Kipling works out as I hope it will is up to Kipling. I feel good about the deal, and the chain of events that lead to making it happen. I feel good about myself, and I’m enjoying playing again. That’s enough.

2 thoughts on “So Where is it Now – My Italian Violin

  1. Hi Zale,
    I saw your post about your operation on your bow hand, interesting coincidence, Kevin has taken up archery the last few years and is making his own arrows. He said he would love to see your bow in person. If you could email me offline, we could connect. Glad to hear you are healing up from your surgery.

    • Ah, and now I see where the confusion arose. When I talk about my bow hand, I’m talking about the hand I use for the violin bow, not archery. I was wondering why you thought I make archery bows.

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